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Gunma Univ. creates world-class self-driving test facility

A bus drives itself within the grounds of the Center for Research on Adoption of NextGen Transportation Systems (CRANTS) at Gunma University's Aramaki campus. (Mainichi)

MAEBASHI -- A new research center that has a specialized testing and development environment for self-driving vehicles has been established here at Gunma University's Aramaki campus.

    The grounds of the Center for Research on Adoption of NextGen Transportation Systems (CRANTS) is equipped with the latest facilities necessary for development and with test roads to evaluate the fruits of research and development. The institute will collaborate with the private sector, and aims to make all cars self-driving in limited communities by around 2020.

    The test roads are some of the largest among research centers worldwide, at approximately 6,000 square meters. The roads are fitted out with movable traffic lights, signs and lines, and can create a variety of traffic conditions.

    Demonstration experiments of self-driving cars had heretofore been carried out in the parking lot of Gunma University's Kiryu campus and on nearby public roads, where the university's School of Science and Technology is located. However, a school official said, "test driving on public roads poses a risk. It's very significant that we are now able to artificially produce obstacles on our test roads."

    The self-driving vehicles that will be tested at the center will not be limited to buses and passenger cars. Researchers say they plan to have a total of about 18 self-driving trucks and compact vehicles ready for use by about August.

    The main two-story research building has a data center in which massive volumes of data obtained through trials is stored and analyzed; a simulation room equipped with a sizable 360-degree screen onto which three-dimensional footage created from gathered data can be projected, and with which one can take part in simulated driving; and a control room/remote-driving room, which allows one to remotely operate a vehicle that has shut down, or has otherwise run into trouble on the road.

    The commercial viability of self-driving vehicles, if realized, would bring about a fundamental shift to society's traffic system, impacting a wide range of fields, such as passenger transport, sightseeing and entertainment, and medical welfare. Because of this, CRANTS is collaborating with the private sector to take consultations on technological issues, and is pushing forward with research and development aimed at the analysis and realization of businesses that will become necessary in the future. The research building also has about a dozen research labs that can be used by private corporations.

    "CRANTS will become a hub for companies from within and without Gunma Prefecture to come under one roof, where researchers, technology, and economic resources will gather and work together," Hiroshi Hiratsuka, the president of Gunma University, said at the facility's opening ceremony on May 18. "We will become a source of regional vitalization."

    (Japanese original by Naoki Sugi, Maebashi Bureau)

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